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How long do you stay engaged on a typical Zoom call? If you’re like most, it’s probably no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Despite the benefits of using Zoom to stay connected with remote work and learning during a new digital age, the hassle of staring at the screen for yet another virtual meeting can be felt by even well-versed digital nomads. Even remote work evangelists will admit that, at a certain point, Zoom fatigue is very real.
For all the things it does right, Zoom is missing one core element that’s vital to work. It’s something so essential, Steve Jobs literally redesigned the Pixar offices to cultivate it.
The Spark is what happens when creativity runs free. It’s the lightning-fast exchange of excitement, ideas and innovation. Remote-work pessimists will tell you that The Spark is impossible in a virtual world, but that’s not quite true. Because there’s one virtual world that’s been creating sparks for decades: esports.
The esports spark
While the term “esports” only became general knowledge within the last few years, the first esports tournament actually dates all the way back to 1972, when five students competed in the game ”Spacewar” on the Stanford University campus. It wasn’t until the late 2010s that esports really took off with the rise of high-speed internet and the launch of video game streaming platform Twitch in 2011.
The esports industry has discovered how to keep people engaged in virtual environments better than any other industry. Today, esports are everywhere. Schools are incorporating them into their curriculum. States are competing to build the most impressive esports arenas. Even consumer tech companies such as Peloton are adding gaming as a priority to their product roadmaps. Schools, states and companies know that the future of business is virtual, and esports is the model for how to do virtual right.
The king of engagement
The data is clear. Many of us struggle to spend 15 to 20 minutes on a Zoom call, but will happily spend hours per day playing or watching video games. Certainly, there is no problem finding The Spark in virtual worlds. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look.
While the C-suite might not like the idea of their employees playing video games for hours on end, video games encourage many of the behaviors you’d want to see in your employees better and easier than other methods. Employees can learn teamwork, communication, problem-solving, resiliency to failure, innovation, creativity and more from video games, as players are required to use these skills regularly while immersed in their virtual worlds.
Esports are so engaging precisely because they ask you to do more, not less. By requiring gamers to utilize so many different skill sets, video games force players to access more of their brains, creating higher levels of engagement and immersion. This is something I learned a great deal about in a former role as head of innovation and creativity at Disney. This complete immersion into virtual worlds will serve as the model for the future of work.
Esports and the metaverse
Though it’s a huge industry on its own, esports has been a catalyst for something even bigger: the metaverse. At its core, the metaverse is all about experiences, and if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that the experience-driven economy is here to stay.
The desire to embrace the experience economy shows. Walmart has been quietly filing trademark applications for NFTs and virtual goods and currencies to sell in the metaverse. Epic Games hosted virtual concerts featuring stars such as Ariana Grande. Disney recently patented an augmented reality device that will not require visitors to wear any sort of headset or glasses for an immersive digital experience.
The area of opportunity for businesses in the metaverse is huge. Just look at the sports industry. Taking inspiration from the rise in esports — where prominent tournaments have both live attendees and virtual ones streaming in from across the globe — many leagues are starting to explore ways to bring fans who might not otherwise attend games in person into the action.
The NBA started with interactive fan displays during the COVID bubble and will undoubtedly bring back something similar in seasons to come. More recently, both Manchester City and the Atlanta Braves announced plans to build virtual replicas of their stadiums right inside the metaverse, giving fans a place to watch games, buy souvenirs and meet players, all from the comfort of their couches.
It’s only a matter of time until you find these “virtual” tickets sold right alongside physical ones. Imagine how engaged fans will be when they can pay $1 to sit in the upper level, $25 to sit on the 50-yard line, and $50 to sit right on the bench next to the players.
It’s not just billion-dollar sports franchises taking note. Forward-thinking small businesses are already exploring ways to maximize their presence in the metaverse as well. From selling virtual goods to a subset of customers who cannot afford physical ones to having sales reps exhibit at trade shows without ever having to leave their living rooms, opportunities for small brands to go global with the metaverse are many.
The future of virtual
We’re living in the middle of a pivotal moment for work. Employees have more power than ever and are leaving jobs in record numbers as part of the Great Resignation. Workers are no longer accepting the status quo, choosing instead to seek out employment opportunities that fit into their lives — not the other way around.
All these components together mean that virtual is here to stay. For business leaders looking to succeed in this virtual-first world, it’s time to take a lesson from esports. In many ways, esports has proven that virtual doesn’t have to be boring. To do virtual successfully, you must cultivate The Spark. Because, as we all know, it’s hard to get Zoom fatigue when you’re fighting crime and slaying zombies.
Duncan Wardle, formerly vice president of innovation and creativity at The Walt Disney Company, now runs his creative consulting company iD8 & innov8 to help companies embed a culture of innovation and creativity across their entire organizations.
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